The conversation screeched to a halt and I was met with staring faces: two shocked (my Canadian friends) and one amused and what-have-you-done-now? (Varun).
Me: Um. What?
B: You said ‘Eskimo’.
(Apparently this requires no further explanation)
Me: Yeah. As in, igloos. I don’t get it. Is this a bad word?
A: We do not say Eskimo in Canada!
(Expectant silence. I think my apology would go here)
Varun: Oh! Is it like calling someone [insert racially inappropriate term here]?
A and B: (Thoroughly scandalized)
A: Amelia. How can you have lived in Canada for 6 years and not know that? The correct term is Inuit.
[Don’t worry, these girls are my dear friends and have stuck by me through much worse.]
As humorous as this moment was, it was also an intriguing reminder that beneath my poutine-cooking ways and long vowels, I’m not Canadian. Somehow, I missed the Eskimo memo.
As I thought about it, I began to be concerned that maybe this wasn’t an America/Canada thing, maybe this is jut a political correctness fail. Thankfully, my Dad hit up Wikipedia and clarified everything:
The term Eskimo is commonly used by those in the lower 48 and in Alaska to include both Yupik and Inupiat. No universal term other than Eskimo, inclusive of all Inuit and Yupik people, exists for the Inuit and Yupik peoples. In Canada and Greenland, the term Eskimo has fallen out of favour, as it is sometimes considered pejorative and has been replaced by the term Inuit.
My Dad’s email concluded with a typical Dad-line, “Hey, wait a minute, didn’t you have an entire course on this?”
Oh dear. The man never forgets when he shells out cash for me to take a course of circumpolar geography.
For my American amigos (are we allowed to say ‘amigos’?), Nunavut is the northernmost territory in Canada. As you might imagine, Geography of Nunavut was less than jam-packed. The class consisted of our professor leaning against his desk sporting moccasins and drinking coffee out of a worn tin mug while telling stories. For an entire semester he regaled us with his adventures in Nunavut, braving blizzards, researching seal migration and learning Inkutitut (ᐃᓄᒃᑎᑐᑦ)). I don’t remember the banning of the word Eskimo, but I do remember being very hung up on the fact that the capital of Nunavut, Iqaluit, has a population of 6,699. People.
The Inuit, as I’m told they like to be called, are amazingly resilient people. Seriously. Do some googling about northern Canada. And then go outside and embrace the waning days of summer. And please do not say ‘Eskimo’ at a Canadian luncheon.